State

Stanislaus County deputy layoffs in balance

In exchange for agreeing to 5 percent pay cuts, Stanislaus County's nearly 4,000 employees are being offered the equivalent of 13 extra vacation days a year.

The payroll savings could save some jobs if the county's 13 unions go along, but they wouldn't halt all of the layoffs. As many as 45 of the county's 178 patrol deputies could lose their jobs.

The time off is a negotiated twist on furloughs, or forced days off without pay, in an attempt to save the county about $6 million.

The expected result: fewer workers having to cover for more absences.

"It's the hand we're being dealt, so we're going to have to deal with it," said Undersheriff Bill Heyne.

Details still are coming together, but it's expected that employees would have more than one year to use the extra time. There are expected to be caps on how long the time could accrue, limiting an employee's ability to cash it out as a retirement bump.

The Sheriff's Department's patrol deputies will vote on the trade-off today and Wednesday. Their proposed deal includes a contract extension, from December through June 2012, with no raises.

"Our members are going to go for it," predicted Vince Bizzini, president of the Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association, on Monday. "We're trying to save as many jobs as we can. But it will be difficult because we're losing so many guys and we just won't have the bodies to let people off. Whoever is running the schedule is going to have to be a master."

The pay cuts won't prevent layoffs among deputies.

Negotiators' layoff estimates, Bizzini said, have ranged up to 45 patrol deputies, 18 jail deputies, five sergeants and two lieutenants. Numbers frequently change, he and Heyne said, and aren't expected to firm up for at least a few days.

Administrators warned early this month they may be forced to lay off 239 employees among the county's 27 departments. They've eliminated 642 positions in about 30 months through attrition and layoffs.

Some used furloughs

Furloughs also have been a key tool in reducing payroll for the county during the recession's long drop in tax revenue. Over the past budget year, county departments were called on to cut their expenses and many used furloughs.

County Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson expects to take a comprehensive layoff proposal to county supervisors in late April, he said Monday. His office is trying to close an estimated $23 million gap in the county's budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Administrators are calling their strategy "special accrued leave time," sometimes shortened to "SALT."

Robinson said imposing unpaid furloughs has "never been terribly successful.

"We tried to identify the greatest number of tools to address these very challenging times," Robinson said. "This is one that seemed to have a lot of merit and will save quite a few jobs."

Some departments allow employees to choose their days off. Others close entire offices for blocks of time, essentially removing flexibility for workers.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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